I want to thank Rick Carpiniello for the outstanding coverage he brings to Rangers fans everywhere. One of the most important parts of his blog is giving us the opportunity to interact with him and other fans, while also giving some readers the ability to blog their thoughts. This was my first time in Traverse City and it’s been an amazing week. The area is beautiful, the people are extremely friendly, and the tournament is something to be seen. In some ways outside of the NHL and international tourneys, this is the highest level of competition you will see. MSG provided their fans with awesome coverage and they also provided exposure and resources for the tournament itself, so much appreciation to them for that.
Since there were guest bloggers who did incredible jobs on individual game and player accounts, I’m not going to delve too far into individual recaps. I’m going to try to give different perspective of the tournament: as a whole and as seen in live person.
The tournament is held at Centre Ice Arena, which is where the Detroit Red Wings hold their training camp. The complex is designed as a main concourse with two rinks on either side. Very small, very intimate, with a strong turnout comprised of both front office personnel as well as NHL alumni. The rinks themselves have bleachers on only one side, nine rows deep, and they approximately hold 325 people in seats, with standing room behind. The spectators are made up of Michigan natives, players’ parents, and organizational people. The entire Rangers contingent was on hand including the captain and his lieutenant, Mess and Gravy, as well as assistant coach Mike Sullivan, and they all watched front and center throughout the entire tournament. So to give readers a perspective of what it’s like: All eyes on are the prospects, there is nowhere to hide, and you must go out and compete.
From the get-go, one of the most obvious things was that the new-found Rangers culture of hard-working, no-nonsense, head-down, straight-ahead thinking, has already been instilled in the newest crop of prospects. These guys get it, and it’s a compliment to the shift in organizational philosophy and consistent re-enforcement of this philosophy. Credit goes to the Rangers player development office, theirs scouts, and most importantly to Ken Gernander and the Connecticut Whale coaching staff who led the prospect team this year as they do every year.
Game 1 against the St. Louis was sort of a family affair, with JD and the Blues contingency sitting right next to the Rangers people. To me, the game started off a little slow, with guys getting their feet wet and working out some of the nerves. Things that were noticeable right away, was the communication from tournament vets such as Dylan Mcllarth and Ryan Bourque. This quickly spread through the bench and helped the team calm down and subsequently turn it up a notch. Goaltender Jason Missiaen helped provided stability on the back line until the rangers got their gears going, so credit must go to him for playing poised in what was as stated by Gordie Clark, his first action against this level of competition. For his size, he was pretty squared up and didn’t have too much wasted movement. Being said, it’s going to take a 6-foot-8 man a little while to learn how to close all those holes. All in all, the most valuable players in Game 1 were the ones you’d expect to carry a team of rookies through their first game together. Mcllarth, Carl Hagelin, the goaltender, current AHL players Blake Parlett and Tommy Grant, and Swedish Elite League alumni Tim Erixon all stood out as tone-setters.
Game 2 turned out to be the most complete and dominate exhibition of the entire tournament for the Rangers. Having skipped practice that morning in order to give the players a good breakfast and conduct team meetings, the team was fresh and really impressed throughout the game. It was during this game that one of the tournament stand-outs, 2011 fifth-round draft pick, Shane McColgan started putting together some real good play and it was something that you could see progress through the final three games. It might have been missed on TV, but moments before McColgan got into a little tussle with a Stars player, one Ranger on the bench slammed his stick on the board in frustration to a play deemed punishable by the entire Rangers squad. It was good to see a guy on the bench that passionate and it was equally good to see McColgan take matters into his own hands, against a guy who he could match up with. You don’t want guys going in over their heads when it comes to holding the line and standing up for your team. But it is nice to see a guy willing and able to handle his own in the right situation. Fellow 2011 draftee Michael St. Croix had his strongest game of the tournament during this second game. Goaltender Scott Stajcer looked like Canada’s World Championship goalie, Stajcer dazzled in the second game. I think Rangers fans will be sure to see some of him in the main training camp.
Game 3 saw a winless Carolina team come out hungry and aggressive against the rangers. They were flying around and they were crashing the net, heavily. The Rangers stood toe to toe with them, but for the most part were always counter-stepping or catching up to their pace. This type of play was indicative of what I saw out of 2011 first-round draft pick JT Miller. He always stood up, he was always around, but most times seemed to be making his first step just a hair late. At this point in his progression that may be the speed at which he processes certain parts of the game and that’s OK. That’s something he needs to work on, and at least he can go back to the tape, see it for himself, and begin to correct it. On the occasions in which Miller had that first step, he dominated play and puck possession and definitely has certain Dubinsky-Callahan like attributes in those areas of the game which were very noticeable. All in all, I’m very excited about JT Miller as a professional player. Players who had strong games included but not limited to, Christian Thomas, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Carl Hagelin, Shane McColgan, and defensemen Collin Bowman who was in traverse on a tryout basic.
Game 4 was a classic case of mismatches and differences. The Sabres were older, bigger, more experienced, and had practiced the morning of the championship. The Rangers had a young squad who aren’t professionally conditioned to practice and then play a game six hours later. I think these factors made a big difference in the game and at least to me; it certainly affected the start of the game. With the stands relatively packed for this championship game and their own self-imposed pressure or desire to win the tournament, the Rangers came out tight and the Sabres pounced on them right away. From the first shift of the game, until the 15-minute mark, the Rangers were out-skated and quick-sticked by the bigger more ready Sabres. Credit should be given to this young Rangers team for stopping the bleeding, and getting a goal before the first intermission, heading into the break down 2-1. One player who was not out-skated in the first stanza was Ryan Bourque who was flat-out skating out of his skates. The second period was much more along the lines of what the other nine periods of hockey looked like in this tournament. Blake Parlett and Tim Exiron were the Rangers best defensemen and the line of Carl Hagelin-Shane McColgan-JT Miller were by far the Rangers go-to line in the second. It was unfortunate that after tying up the score at 2 before the end of the second, that the Rangers again let up the go-ahead goal 1:36 seconds into the third. Having to play catch-up again proved to be too much for the Rangers as late goals cemented the decision. But most important to me, at that point in which was realistically an exhibition game, was the fact that the Rangers didn’t stop skating until that final whistle. If you’re going to give up in the end, why try in the first place? And the Rangers didn’t give up. They might have been beaten in this game, but they didn’t give up. And in a tournament in which small leads turned into blowout wins, the Rangers kept it close to the final buzzer. In the end, the Rangers might have been done in by special teams play. Obviously the PK and defensive zone positioning and responsibilities is something that needs to be taught, and these young guys will learn going through the main training camp and heading forward, but the Sabres had too many PP chances, too much space, and too much time. Bad recipe. Another player who I noted as having a strong game was Randy McNaught, who really seems to know what his bread and butter is. As he improves his skating, I definitely think this is a guy you will you see on big clubs 4th line in the future.
The Rangers D is one area in which the rich are going to keep getting richer. Each and every defensemen on the Rangers prospect roster had periods of really strong play in which you could see how their game would translate to the pros. AHL player Blake Parlett was extremely strong and steady through-out, and was actually tied for the top point scorer in the tournament after two games with five points. Excluding the two puck-moving defensemen, Exiron and Parlett, all of the other six defensemen ( Mcllarth, Noreau, Niemi, Baldwin, Bowman, and Ceresnak) are big, gritty guys , who skate pretty well for their size, and used their long reach to their advantage, effectively most times. Exiron is clearly on a different level in many ways, having played 140 games in the Swedish elite league. His hockey IQ and ability to hold onto and move the puck in tight situations is something you can’t teach, and I believe the physicality of the sport is something you can teach. I don’t know if he begins the season in the AHL. But mark my words. Tim Exiron is going to be one of our top six D-men for a long time. Mcllarth had a strong start to the tourney, but definitely tailed off as Games 3 and 4 went on. Whether it was the speed and pressure put on by both Carolina and Buffalo, or him chasing hits around, his play led to a few goals and penalties. It became clear, he was a little unsure about the balancing act he needs to play in order to play effectively for the team and effectively to his talents. However, it’s important to include A) that some of the penalties wouldn’t have been called by NHL officials, and B) he will become a better skater as time goes on. On the front end, there were many positive signs. Big man on the team, Randy McNaught played well in Game 1 and Game 3. He kept players honest and on edge when he was on the ice. Another player who had good first and third games was Christian Thomas. In the first game, he was putting a lot of shots on net and couldn’t buy a goal. Game 3 however, was his curtain-call game, regardless of his cough-up which led to the game winning goal in double overtime. The guy showed a lightning quick release, which he can get off in the tightest of situations in a heartbeat. Offensivemen, Jonathan Audy-Machessault, Ryan Bourque, Christian Thomas, and Carl Hagelin were the quickest players on the team.
I think it’s important to take the tournament for what it is. The majority of these players have the ability and skills to make the NHL. However, as Gordie Clark put it to me, this tournament is used to see how far away these guys are from helping the big club. “Is this guy a year away, two years away, six months away, etc.”. It’s an indicator for the organization to see how these guys developed in the last year, close up, and to determine what they still need to work on. It gives the organization an understanding of what they have in the pipeline and when these assets are going to be available to inset into the big club. Additionally it gives the players a platform against other top players in their age-group, so that they can see for themselves where they’re at and what they need to work on. So even though the Rangers placed second in the tournament, it was an astounding positive for the New York Rangers organization. The team got to play in the championship game, with something tangible at stake, and the internal pressure that comes with it.
Good work by members of the Rangers family. Welcome to the new prospects. Good luck and get to work. See ya down the line. Now can we get this season going or what?